The fault lines over this Sunday’s Jerusalem Day celebrations are often depicted in simplistic terms: Thousands of kippa-clad Israelis take part in the annual parade to mark the anniversary of the reunification of the city in the Six Day War of June 1967, while keffiyeh-sporting Palestinians demonstrate their opposition to Israeli rule over al-Quds. But the realities are far more nuanced.
Although today the celebration of Jerusalem Day is commonly associated with the religious-Zionist camp, it was the national unity government of Labor prime minister Levi Eshkol that in May 1968 first proclaimed an Israeli national holiday to mark the anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification.
This year, and not for the first time, discussions took place in government and the security establishment as to the appropriate routing of the parade. The organizers, as always, are eager to enter the Old City through the Damascus Gate to emphasize Israel’s sovereignty over the entire city. Others, concerned about the possibility of violence, propose a route that would create less friction by avoiding Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods, areas that were subject to Jordanian rule between 1949 and 1967.
Israel’s War of Independence ended with Jordan’s Arab Legion occupying the Old City and east Jerusalem, and the ensuing reality was one of a city divided down the middle by barbed wire and concrete barriers.
The young State of Israel established its capital in west Jerusalem, while Jordan formally annexed the parts of the city which it controlled. Neither country received international recognition for its claim, with even the Arab League refusing to accept the legitimacy of Jordan’s sovereignty (in fact, only Britain and Pakistan did so). And, in violation of the signed armistice agreement, Jordan did not allow Jews to visit the Western Wall and the other Jewish holy sites in the areas it controlled, some of which were also desecrated.
IN 1967, secular and religious Israelis alike rejoiced in the capture of the Old City, which brought a return to places central to Jewish history and heritage. The Eshkol government’s decision to extend Israeli jurisdiction over formerly Jordanian Jerusalem receiving almost wall-to-wall public support. And in July 1980, the Knesset formally codified united Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s sovereign capital.
Predictably, the United Nations castigated these Israeli moves. Security Council Resolution 478 censured “in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the basic law on Jerusalem.”
It was not just the automatic anti-Israel UN majority that condemned Israel’s actions; the governments of friendly countries refused then, as they do today, to acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, as was reiterated in recent press discussion about US President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Israel.
It was reported that the president’s tentative program includes a tour of east Jerusalem and that the Americans have insisted that the visit there be conducted without the presence of Israeli officials – such accompaniment implying recognition of Israel’s sovereignty.
I had a similar experience while serving as Israel’s ambassador to the UK. During the 2018 visit by Prince William, the first official visit to the Jewish state by a senior British royal, the Israeli side was politely but firmly requested not to accompany the Duke of Cambridge on his tour of Jerusalem’s Old City.
While the British were willing to acknowledge the importance of the Western Wall for Jews worldwide, rightly inviting the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis, to be with the future monarch at the Wall, they nevertheless refused to have present representatives of the Israeli state. For the UK, everything over the Green Line is considered “occupied Palestinian territory.”
Moreover, despite Britain’s “special relationship” with the US, London publicly expressed its opposition to Washington’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Sometimes forgotten: President Donald Trump’s historic decision did not rule out a possible future re-division of the city.
“we are not taking a position on of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.”Former US president Donald Trump
Yet, notwithstanding this significant qualification, the British still rejected the American move, as did the Palestinian leadership, though in more strident and combative terms that created a crisis in Washington-Ramallah relations that lasted until the end of the Trump presidency.
THE PALESTINIAN leadership sees all of formerly-Jordanian Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, as territory illegally occupied by Israel and demands recognition of east Jerusalem as its capital, while contending that the status of west Jerusalem is a matter for permanent status peace talks. And although the Palestinians have signaled a theoretical willingness to accept west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, whenever the issue arose in actual negotiations – Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert tabling concrete ideas to redivide the city – such proposals never proved acceptable.
To buttress its position, the Palestinian leadership claims that Jerusalem’s Palestinians are united in demanding an end to Israel’s rule. But though widely accepted across the globe, this narrative is not reflected in a series of public opinion surveys of Palestinian Jerusalemites.
In December 2021, the Palestine News Network (SHFA) released a poll that found an astonishing 93% of Jerusalem’s Palestinians prefer Israeli to Palestinian rule.
These results were significantly higher than a previous survey done by the Bethlehem-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion released in August 2015, which found that 52% of Jerusalem Palestinians would choose “Israeli citizenship with equal rights,” while only 42% would want to become citizens of a future Palestinian state.
Do Palestinians want to move to Jerusalem?
A November 2011 poll by the same organization discovered that an amazing 42% of Jerusalem Palestinians would want to relocate into Israel if their present neighborhood became part of a Palestinian state.
Considering that the hegemonic political environment among Palestinians would tend to discourage the overt expression of such views, these results speak to a grossly under-reported reality. Though by no means Israeli patriots, Jerusalem’s Palestinians – like Arab Israelis – see the advantages of living in a successful, pluralist democracy with a Western standard of living and social services, over those of the authoritarian, corrupt and poorer Palestinian alternative.
In contrast to the much-propagated narrative, while not publicly celebrating 55 years from to the unification of the city, most Palestinian Jerusalemites would nonetheless elect to remain under Israeli jurisdiction. Of course, those who champion Palestinian rights are under no obligation to take into account the views of Jerusalem’s Palestinians.
Happy Jerusalem Day!
The writer, formerly an adviser to the prime minister, is the incoming chair of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy. Follow him at @AmbassadorMarkRegev on Facebook.